5 Cat Care Mistakes You're Probably Making

As a veterinarian for more than 30 years, I know from experience that most cat and dog owners do everything they can to ensure that they’re taking the best possible care of their pets. But even those with the best intentions can make mistakes. Sometimes the key to becoming a better pet parent is knowing what not to do.

From letting your cat roam outside to ignoring his litterbox, here are five ways you may be caring for your cat wrong — and how to fix them.

5 Things to Stop Doing Right Now

Cat wandering on path


Letting your cat roam freely.

As a veterinarian, I’ve seen enough cats hit by cars, attacked by dogs or accidentally poisoned to know that if you let your cat roam outdoors, you’re putting his life at risk. While it’s hard to compete with the wonders of the natural world, it is possible to make an indoor cat’s life just as enriching as an outdoor cat’s. Try adding trees, toys and food puzzles to his indoor space. Better yet, build a catio, an outdoor enclosure that lets your kitty enjoy the great outdoors with fewer risks. If stray cats frequent your yard though, ask your veterinarian if your cat may need a feline leukemia vaccine.

Scared cat arching back


Punishing or frightening your cat.

No matter how frustrated or angry you are, hitting or yelling at your cat will not change his bad behavior. Well, actually, here’s what will change: He’ll become scared of you and try to avoid you at all costs, which will ruin your relationship. Instead of punishing your cat for bad behavior, try rewarding his good behavior with treats and praise. It’s better for his health, too: Cats who are afraid are stressed, and stress has been linked to illness. A relaxed cat has a better chance of being happier and healthier.

Cat eating food from bowl


Overfeeding your cat.

As hard as we veterinarians try to put a stop to the pet obesity epidemic, it seems as if we’re fighting an uphill battle. We’re seeing cats in constant misery from weight-related feline arthritis, or we’re being asked to euthanize cats with diabetes, because the owners can’t cope with the care. The key to ending obesity in pets lies with you, the pet owner. You have the willpower to say no to a begging cat. You can control how much kibble is poured into your cat’s bowl and how many times a day he’s fed. And we’re here to help: Ask your veterinarian for nutrition and feeding advice.

Medicine cabinet


Using products made for other species on your cat.

When your cat gets sick, it’s tempting to reach into the medicine cabinet and give him an aspirin. Don't do it — aspirin can kill your cat. So can acetaminophen. Even products meant for dogs, like canine flea-control products and dog shampoo, can be harmful to your cat. Cats can be so sensitive to so many things that I’d go so far to say you should use only products that are labeled for cats (and read the label carefully: That same product might not be OK for kittens). The ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center’s website has a comprehensive list of dangerous substances, as well as a list of plants that can be harmful to your cats. And, of course, when in doubt, ask your veterinarian, who knows what's safe and what isn't for your feline.

Cat litterbox


Ignoring your cat’s litterbox.

I know it’s a chore, but if you don’t keep the litterbox clean, you’re upping the chances that your cat won’t use it. More importantly though, cleaning the litterbox daily means you know what your cat’s up to, including what’s normal for him — and what’s not. And because cats are so secretive with signs of illness or pain, cleaning the litterbox is one of the few ways to get some of the clues you need. So don’t ignore the litterbox: Keeping the box clean can keep you in the loop with your cat’s health.

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